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While meditating on Dependent Origination, I have come to understand certain things that I hesitatingly put forth here:

  1. Though the links in the chain of Dependent Origination are cyclical in nature, Avijjā is the one that can be said to be the root of deception and the primal cause of the infinite repetitions of the cycle. Also, it is present in each and every link all the time. So, as an example, though Avijjā gives rise to Saṅkhāras, it is Saṅkhāras (plus Avijjā), that gives rise to Viññāna and, in turn, it is Viññāna (plus Avijjā) that leads us to the next Nidāna, i.e., NāmaRūpa, and, so on and so forth.

  2. The ‘self’, the deceptive ‘individual’, is present only in an incipient form till, I feel, up to the Nidāna of Phassa and starts getting organized, as it were, from the link of Vedanā, getting totally entrenched and almost ‘irreversibly solidified’ by the time the level of Upādāna is reached.

  3. The weakest links are those of Vedanā, Taṇhā and Upādāna, and that is why it is possible to break the chain at these three places, the relatively easiest being the passage from Phassa to Vedanā and the most difficult that from Taṇhā to Upādāna.

  4. Before Phassa, the ‘self’ is too vague and incipient and, therefore, quite weak to attempt its own break-up.

  5. After the Nidāna of Upādāna, the ‘self’ is too deeply entrenched and solidified and, therefore, its break-up again becomes almost impossible.

Is this right? Am I only partly right? Or, is it that I have got it all wrong?

And yes, is it possible to have a profound insight directly into the primal link of Avijjā, so that the later interventions are not required at all?

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  • I understand discussion can be helpful and that some baseline rudimentary knowledge might be necessary to incline the mind towards an intuitive understanding of dependent origination, but it looks like you're far too engrossed in forcing an intellectual understanding. From what you can currently intuit from dependent origination, ask yourself: How were you able to give birth to those fragmented concepts in your question? A small step backwards might reveal a previously unseen vista.
    – Max
    Feb 24 at 17:01
  • @NeuroMax idk if this comment is entirely appropriate. The questioners rarely welcome advise that undermines the premise of the question. On this site we usually try to abstain from such advises which are better suited for a teacher/student relationship than the Q&A format.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Feb 25 at 2:05
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Though the links in the chain of Dependent Origination are cyclical in nature, Avijjā is the one that can be said to be the root of deception and the primal cause of the infinite repetitions of the cycle. Also, it is present in each and every link all the time.

Correct. Every link includes ignorance within it. For example, the consciousness link does not mean consciousness itself but, instead, a consciousness polluted with ignorance. SN 22.81 makes this clear, with its phrase: "contact with ignorance (avijjāsamphassajena)".

So, as an example, though Avijjā gives rise to Saṅkhāras, it is Saṅkhāras (plus Avijjā),

Correct. Very good.

that gives rise to Viññāna and, in turn, it is Viññāna (plus Avijjā) that leads us to the next Nidāna, i.e., NāmaRūpa, and, so on and so forth.

Correct. Very good. A Buddha/Arahant has consciousness without ignorance (It 44; MN 38; MN 148; etc).

The ‘self’, the deceptive ‘individual’, is present only in an incipient form till, I feel, up to the Nidāna of Phassa and starts getting organized, as it were, from the link of Vedanā, getting totally entrenched

In the most primal form of dependent origination, the above is incorrect. Refer to SN 12.12, which says there is no "self" or "who" that feels, craves and clings.

However, when past becoming emerges at ignorance, then 'yes', the deceptive self is in incipient form. (Refer to the end of MN 9, which includes three asava, including becoming, within the ignorance link)

and almost ‘irreversibly solidified’ by the time the level of Upādāna is reached

Correct. In the most primal form, the self-view emerges at upadana. Refer to MN 9 or SN 12.2, which say words about self is one of the four types of attachment.

The weakest links are those of Vedanā, Taṇhā and Upādāna, and that is why it is possible to break the chain at these three places, the relatively easiest being the passage from Phassa to Vedanā and the most difficult that from Taṇhā to Upādāna.

Correct. Most suttas are about preventing vedana causing craving to arise. MN 148 is one sutta that extends the possibility to craving; where craving can still be experienced without upadana. But once upadana arises, this is dukkha; this is stress or bondage.

Before Phassa, the ‘self’ is too vague and incipient and, therefore, quite weak to attempt its own break-up.

As said, on the primal level, there can be no self prior to upadana.

However, if there is the incipient self arising at ignorance, it can be stopped at nama-rupa link. It does not have to proceed to contact.

For example, the incipient self thought (sankhara) may spontaneously arise during meditation: "I want to eat". Nama-rupa can reflect: "No, it is not the right time to eat". Therefore, the sense bases & contact that ordinarily look for food to eat will not arise. The chain is cut at nama-rupa.

Note: The namarupa link also includes contact within it. This refers to the 'internal' contact made with the sankhara link. It does not refer to the six-fold contact which is 'external' orientated contact.

After the Nidāna of Upādāna, the ‘self’ is too deeply entrenched and solidified and, therefore, its break-up again becomes almost impossible.

Yes. But the self that has formed can still be cut.

Is this right? Am I only partly right? Or, is it that I have got it all wrong?

Your analysis is excellent. Well-done.

And yes, is it possible to have a profound insight directly into the primal link of Avijjā, so that the later interventions are not required at all?

MN 9 includes the three 'asava' within the link of ignorance, namely, sensuality, (past) becoming and ignorance. Therefore, if the mind has silent clear concentration, it can experience the energy or vibration of 'asava' bubbling up or flowing out, without those asava brewing up thoughts & perceptions (which are the vaci & citta sankhara). However, such outflows of 'asava' will always stir-up/agitate the breathing (kaya sankhara).

In summary, on the most primal level, the subtle emergence of ignorance can be discerned within the breathing. This is why Anapanasati is developed.

Note: The 'kayasankhara' mentioned at 4th step of anapanasati is the same as the kayasankhara mentioned in 2nd link of dependent origination.

It is important to know what the 'sankhara' are, which are of three types:

  1. kayasankhara - breathing
  2. vaci sankhara - initial & sustained thought
  3. citta sankhara - perception & feeling

When ignorance/asava brew up, they then brew up one or all of the above sankhara.

If required, refer to Thanissaro's excellent 'Shape of Suffering', pages 3 to 7.

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    Thanks a lot @Dhammadhatu for the encouragement. I'll definitely go through the Ven Thanissaro's 'Shape of Suffering'. Thanks again for lending a helping hand with my hesitant steps on the path. 🙏🙏🙏 Feb 25 at 4:15
  • You are welcome. MN 38 makes it very clear Dependent Origination is an object of here & now insight and personal verification. Feb 25 at 4:16
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When confusion persists, it's good to review basics.

An understanding of dependent origination requires an understanding of contact:

DN34:1.2.8: What one thing should be completely understood?
DN34:1.2.9: Contact, which is accompanied by defilements and is prone to being grasped.

You may be interested in DN1, which describes all the tangles involved in thinking about 'self'.

DN1:3.58.0: 4.3. Not Possible
DN1:3.70.1: Now, when those ascetics and brahmins theorize about the past and the future on these sixty-two grounds, it is not possible that they should experience these things without contact.
DN1:3.71.0: 4.4. Dependent Origination
DN1:3.71.12: Now, when those ascetics and brahmins theorize about the past and the future on these sixty-two grounds, all of them experience this by repeated contact through the six fields of contact. Their feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition for old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress to come to be.

Ultimately, the tangles are not so important as the escape.

DN1:3.72.0: 5. The End of the Round
DN1:3.72.1: When a mendicant truly understands the six fields of contacts’ origin, ending, gratification, drawback, and escape, they understand what lies beyond all these things.
DN1:3.72.2: All of these ascetics and brahmins who theorize about the past or the future are trapped in the net of these sixty-two grounds, so that wherever they emerge they are caught and trapped in this very net.
DN1:3.72.3: Suppose a deft fisherman or his apprentice were to cast a fine-meshed net over a small pond. They’d think: ‘Any sizable creatures in this pond will be trapped in the net. Wherever they emerge they are caught and trapped in this very net.’
DN1:3.72.4: In the same way, all of these ascetics and brahmins who theorize about the past or the future are trapped in the net of these sixty-two grounds, so that wherever they emerge they are caught and trapped in this very net.

Don't get caught in the net.

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    Thanks@OyaMist with your advice. You are right, 'tangles are less important than the escape', but then if we understand them properly, the escape becomes that much easier. Feb 25 at 4:18
  • Thanks @SushilFotedar, I regularly study DN1 to see the net. It helps me focus on principles while meditating. Ven. Sariputta's explanation of contacts in particular was quite helpful.
    – OyaMist
    Feb 25 at 14:09

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